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The Flash has stumbled, both literally and metaphorically, this season, but apparently all it took was an alien invasion for the character (and the show) to get back on its feet. Although Monday night’s episode of Supergirl briefly alludes to it, this episode of The Flash officially kicks off “Heroes v Aliens,” the CW’s much-ballyhooed crossover event. The high concept behind the crossover is in the title, as the Flash assembles a team of heroes to fight the Dominators. This puts Barry in a position of leadership, but that leadership is challenged once the team learns of his manipulation of the timeline. As a result, one of my least favorite character arcs once again rears its ugly head in “Invasion!”: Barry moping about all the damage he’s done to the lives of his friends as a result of creating Flashpoint. Despite the presence of Mopey Barry, however, the episode is chock-full of the sort of fun, colorful superheroic moments that have been in short supply this season.
So who or what are the Dominators? DC Comics fans will recognize them as the evil alien race that led an invasion force against Earth in a late 1980s crossover entitled Invasion! that inspired this crossover event. But while the comic’s version of the Dominators have bright yellow skin and wear flowing green robes, the CW’s version of the Dominators differ in significant ways. For one, they are pale white in color and they don’t wear robes—in fact, they don’t appear to wear clothes at all. For another, The Flash reveals them to have mind-control powers in addition to a more physically imposing appearance. We learn in this episode that the Dominators were responsible for the Roswell incident and subjected to experiments by the U.S. government. The Dominators escaped, however, and have apparently been waiting until this very moment to hatch their revenge. Aside from that scrap of motivation, there isn’t much else to the Dominators. Perhaps subsequent episodes in the crossover will delve further into what makes them tick, but at this point their main purpose seems to be as punching bags for the heroes. That may sound like a criticism, but in this context it totally works.
Younger fans have grown up in an age of Marvel movies in which superheroes make guest appearances in each other’s films. They’ve become so spoiled by the cross-promotional frenzy that they take the sight of a large gathering of superheroes on screen for granted. To its credit, “Invasion!” doesn’t treat the crossover as old hat and it’s clear that everyone involved is having fun with the material. In particular, it’s hard not to smile seeing Melissa Benoist’s lighthearted Supergirl play off the relatively grimmer heroes in the mainline CW-verse. (Strangely enough, the showrunners continue to insist on segregating the Supergirl universe from its other superhero shows—maybe so it can replicate an old-school DC Comics moment by having heroes from different worlds team up?) The Flash isn’t afraid to both have fun with Supergirl and treat its special guest star with proper reverence; the apotheosis of these two ideas comes when Supergirl spars against the combined forces of the Legends of Tomorrow and Team Arrow with a smile on her face.
Another strong bit of characterization in “Invasion!” is its handling of the Barry-Oliver dynamic. One could argue that their relationship is the foundation of the CW-verse. That’s true on a literal level, as Arrow begat The Flash and the other CW superhero series in turn, but also in terms of their mentor-mentee relationship. Although the specifics are somewhat different, it is in many ways the CW-verse’s version of the classic Superman-Batman relationship. Although not the leader of the team—though most would’ve preferred him over the Flash—Oliver plays a significant role, both in terms of initially advising Mopey Barry not to reveal the changes to the timeline to the rest of the team and later in getting him to snap out of it and move on. Frankly, Oliver’s pep talk was a long-overdue moment as it was becoming tiresome to see Barry continually beating himself up over Flashpoint. It can be argued that it gives Barry a Spider-Man-like edge of regret and tragedy, but it’s a bad fit for a character as generally bright and optimistic as the Flash. What makes him such a great contrast to Oliver’s Green Arrow is that his origin story is more oriented around wonder than tragedy. Hopefully The Flash showrunners have finally realized that too and will give us a Barry worth rooting for again.
Barry’s Flashpoint guilt may be one of the central driving force of “Invasion!,” but the episode manages to cram in a number of other subplots. We see Wally chomping at the bit to use his newly reacquired speedster powers, only to have Iris declare him not to be ready. (As if she would know, pshaw!) We see Cisco continue to stew about Barry killing his brother (at least, that’s how it appears from Cisco’s point-of-view). Caitlin gets to sit on the sidelines after losing her Killer Frost powers. She spends a portion of the episode with Dr. Stein, who seems to be have acquired a daughter he doesn’t remember (probably because of Flashpoint). Apparently Captain Cold died in an act of heroic sacrifice. And on and on. As a viewer who hasn’t kept up consistently with the other CW shows aside from Supergirl and The Flash, there were certainly characters and moments that were unfamiliar to me. But as a long-standing comics reader, I know how to just go with the crossover flow and follow along, trusting that the creators will give me the information I need to process what’s going on. And they do for the most part.
In summation, “Invasion!” marks a return of fun to The Flash after weeks of sturm und drang. While this may sound like a backhanded compliment, the best part of the episode is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Sure, there are individual moments and, in particular, lines of dialogue that are forced and even corny as hell. But I like a bit of cornball in my superhero fare if it’s pulled off well enough; just look to most episodes of Supergirl as an example of how it can be done. The episode climaxes on a whiz-bang fight scene between the Flash and Green Arrow and the other heroes that recalls the Superhero Fight Club videos that were such a viral hit. If this episode is any indication of where the “Heroes v Aliens” storyline is heading, then it would appear that we’re in for a fun ride.
This Week in References
Aside from the Dominators, the other major Easter Egg for DC Comics fans isn’t a character but rather a building. In particular, it’s the Hall of Justice that an older generation of fans will recognize as the headquarters of the Super Friends in the cartoon series of the same name. Of course, they don’t call it the Hall of Justice—the episode establishes it as a heretofore unacknowledged property of STAR Labs—but the building profile is unmistakable. Given that “Heroes v Aliens” is establishing its own version of the Super Friends, if not the Justice League, then the locale is more than appropriate.